Toxic relationships: how to recognize them and end them
Good relationships, be they with a friend, spouse, parent or significant other, make us feel good. In fact, Psychology Today says that satisfying relationships influence our long-term health as much as getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and not smoking1. Good relationships are associated with better health and happiness, and even a longer life.
So it stands to reason that bad relationships are, well, bad for us. Fights and disagreements are perfectly normal in any relationship, but when a relationship you have with someone else is consistently unpleasant, mentally draining, and feels more negative than positive, it is probably toxic.
If there is violence, abuse or harassment involved it is most definitely toxic, and it’s important to seek help as soon as you’re safely able to. If it’s an emergency call 911, otherwise these resources can help:
- In the United States:
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233
- In Canada:
- Ending Violence Association of Canada
- In the United Kingdom:
- Women’s Aid at 0808 2000 247
If you are experiencing the following, you may be in a toxic relationship2:
- shifts in your mental health, personality, or self esteem
- persistent unhappiness because the relationship has stopped bringing joy
- feeling nervous or uncomfortable in the presence of the other person
- feeling like you can’t voice your concerns about the relationship to the other person
In a nutshell, if your relationship just doesn’t feel good – if it makes you unhappy and causes you anxiety and suffering – you need to figure out if it is a relationship that can be repaired, perhaps with therapy or other interventions, or if it’s one you need to walk away from. In some cases toxic relationships are between family members and simply “walking away” isn’t a feasible option. But you can choose to limit your contact and set healthy boundaries.
Scary Mommy3 has some suggestions for ways to deal with toxic people in your life.
- Set limits. Toxic people often need to control people and situations, so wrest some of that control back by choosing not to invest too much time or effort on them. Keep conversations brief and topics light, and then make your escape as soon as you’re able.
- Choose your battles. Interactions with toxic people can quickly escalate, so instead of being provoked into a fight every single time about every single thing, rate your grievances on a scale of 1 – 10 and let things that fall below an 8 slide. Think of it as a sanity saving measure – and one that could possibly make the toxic person less apt to try to get a rise out of you.
- Get some perspective. Yes, toxic people are difficult and can be demoralizing to have to deal with, but consider how much you truly value that person’s opinion and whether or not you think they have your best interests at heart. Try not to worry quite so much about what they say or do if you don’t care that much about their opinions and don’t believe they truly want the best for you. Taking a step back emotionally may help you cope with the situation.
- Think good thoughts. You can’t wish away toxic people, but you can refuse to give them more of your mental energy than you absolutely have to. Refocus and think about positive situations and potential solutions rather than concentrating on how frustrating the toxic person is and how awful everything they’ve done is. You deserve that peace.
- Ask for support. You have friends and family members who aren’t toxic. Lean on them when you need to, and let them remind you that you are wonderful and worthy – not the terrible, flawed human the toxic person in your life wants you to believe you are.
417719 CAN/US (08/19)